Local News Noise & Notes Politics

“Talk to Greg” Comes to Portland Neighborhood Minus The Mayor

The next “Talk to Greg” session with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is scheduled for Monday in the Portland neighborhood, but the mayor won’t be in attendance.

The event will be held at Portland Elementary School, 3410 Northwestern Parkway at 6 p.m. to give residents an opportunity to bring their concerns and suggestions directly to Metro Government officials. Initially, the mayor’s office would not comment on the reason for the mayor’s absence, however, later confirmed in an interview that Fischer will be out of town on vacation.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Ellen Hesen, will host the meeting in his absence along with his chief of community building and chief administrative officer.

“All the mayor’s leadership will be there. The mayor is taking a very much needed and very much deserved vacation with his family. So he will not be there, however, all his top leadership will be there and there will be plenty of people there for the citizens to interact with,” says mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Council Members Urge State Lawmakers to Support Charter Schools

A bipartisan group of Louisville Metro Council members have signed a letter urging the Kentucky General Assembly to support charter schools legislation.

Earlier this week, the House Education Committee held a hearing on a bill that would create charter schools in the state. Several supporters testified that Kentucky is being left behind as one of the nine states without the education alternative.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant-Hamilton, D-5, was one city lawmaker who signed the petition calling on the state legislature to pass the bill. She says the broadening coalition of council Democrats and Republican from various parts of the city should show leaders in Frankfort that the commonwealth needs to provide local communities with more educational choices.

“We want all the tools in the toolbox and I don’t think one-size fits all. I don’t think sitting next to another child is going to improve my education, but I think the small class size, extended day and Saturday school, a lot of the tools in charter schools appeals to people and to parents,” she says.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Council Members, ORBP Supporters Rally for Infrastructure Resolution

Joined by high-profiled supporters of the Ohio River Bridges Projects, members of the Louisville Metro Council pointed the finger at the conservation group River Fields for blocking the city’s infrastructure needs.

City lawmakers are rallying support for a resolution drafted Monday in reaction to the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, which was shut down September 9 after cracks were discovered in some load-bearing supports.

The non-binding measure calls for an expedited construction schedule of the $3.6 billion public works project and underscores the Sherman Minton closure as a reason to get it moving forward at a quicker pace. It criticizes River Fields, which has opposed an East End Bridge mainly for environmental reasons, asking the organization to cease all legal actions that it alleges are delaying the project.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, says constituents in her district have been affected by the Sherman Minton being shut down and there is an urgent need for funding the area’s current and future infrastructure projects.

“The time for talk, delay and lawsuits is over, this debate over the years has lacked something that we now have, a serious, immediate and pressing need to move forward. That serious reason has now been presented to this community in dramatic fashion with the unexpected closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge for over a week now,” she says.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Resolution Urges Expedited Ohio River Bridges Project

Citing the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, leaders of the Louisville Metro Council Transportation and Public Works Committee have drafted a resolution calling for an expedited construction schedule for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Councilman Robin Engel, R-22, and Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, who head the transportation committee, drafted the non-binding measure to encourage local, state and federal officials to become more involved with the behemoth public works project.

City lawmakers will be joined by some of the bridges projects big name supporters, including former Jefferson County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson, Humana, Inc. founder David Jones and David Nicklies, former chairman of the Bridges Coalition.

Engel and Hamilton say other elected officials and community leaders must step up to push the $3.6 billion project forward.

“The Ohio River Bridges Project is essential to interstate commerce and will create thousands of desperately needed jobs, open up significant economic development opportunities and save motorists over $1.6 Billion in fuel and maintenance costs over a 20 year period,” the resolution says.

Local News Politics

Hamilton to Hold Special Meeting About Shawnee Neighborhood

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, is offering residents of the Shawnee neighborhood an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas about future development at a special meeting.

For the past few years, Metro Government has conducted a study of what the west Louisville neighborhood should do to attract businesses and become more desirable. The goal is to update a neighborhood plan that will develop the area over the next two decades, which hasn’t been done since 1982.

“There has been much progress in the Shawnee area in the last few years,” says Hamilton. “The people who live in this area best know how this community should grow for the future.”

Local News Politics

Former City Lawmaker to be Honored With Shawnee Park Complex

A sports complex in Shawnee Park is being named to honor the late Paul Bather, a former member of the Louisville Board of Alderman and state representative.

For over a decade, Bather represented parts of west Louisville as the 12th Ward alderman before city and county governments merged. He left City Hall in 2000 and served one-term in the General Assembly before retiring.

During his career, Bather pushed for a number of projects that later came to fruition such as a downtown arena and a museum to honor boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Besides advocating for revitalizing west Louisville neighborhoods, Bather is also remembered as a supporter of the Fairness Ordinance in 1999.

But the outspoken lawmaker wasn’t without controversy either. At one point Bather was censured for lobbying on behalf of a cable TV contractor he had a business relationship with. He was also heavily criticized for flashing a deputy sheriff’s badge to get out of an out-of-state traffic ticket and for one of his children running up close to $11,000 in charges on a city-issued cellphone.

Bather moved to Houston after leaving office, where he died of pancreatic cancer in 2009 at age 62.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant-Hamilton, D-5, initiated the renaming and announced the dedication ceremony will take place at 10:30am Friday at the corner of Market Street and Southwestern Parkway.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Council Discusses Redistricting Options

The Louisville Metro Council ad hoc committee on redistricting met Monday to discuss moving forward on drawing new borders for the 26 district seats.

From the beginning council leaders have vowed to protect incumbents, preserve minority representation and keeping neighborhoods united. But lawmakers disagreed on whether an independent demographer should be hired to redraw the maps or if city officials can handle the task after receiving proper software training.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, says the council will finish compiling the census data before the Dec. 31 deadline, but she was concerned if staffers can properly upload the numbers in order to redraw district lines.

“I’m just a little concerned that we’re proceeding probably without an independent demographer to guide us through this process. And it’s kind of like we’re relying on them maybe at the end and we may be back at square one. I don’t know if it’s unfounded or unjust or whatever,” she says

Population shifts that have occurred across the city show growth in east Louisville and an exodus from the city’s West End, particularly in historically black neighborhoods such as Hamilton’s district. There is concern that could diminish minority representation on the council.

During the committee meeting, Council President Jim King, D-10, said he favored the option of city officials entering the data as opposed to a independent group. When that position was hammered by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, King defended himself from criticism that the process is being hurried and the new lines wouldn’t be fairly drawn.

“I never said anything about it being a rushed thing and I never said anything about breaking the law,” says King. “All I’ve said is that I think that this is a numerical calculation. I have no problem with having an independent body validating it later.”

The council will hold another redistricting committee meeting seeking public input on July 1. The committee is still waiting for the final census figures.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Council Democrats Defend Gift Card Purchases

Gift card purchases made by the Louisville Metro Council have ignited a new round of audits and raised more questions about discretionary spending, but members of the Democratic caucus say the practice is justifiable.

Records show council Democrats are doing most of the spending with Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, leading the pack with $1,550 spent on gift cards over three years, some of which went to residents in a raffle contest.

The Kentucky state constitution prohibits cities from using public funds for gifts under any circumstances and outside experts have likened the practice to “handing out cash.”

Many Democrats have defended the use of gift cards, however, saying it is easy to “nickel and dime” Metro government but the gift cards are used in a way to get people involved with their neighborhood

And Democratic caucus spokesperson Tony Hyatt says members are concerned that reports of council purchases are being exaggerated.

“I won’t say that everyone thinks it’s blown out of proportion because everyone welcomes scrutiny, but there are several council members who believe that do you not expect people to operate their office or interact with constituents in the community with this kind of scrutiny,” he says. “There’s been more concern that we’re making more of this an issue than it actually is.”

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Fleming Anticipates Changes Following Spending Controversies

A Louisville Metro Council member hopes the public isn’t losing trust in city lawmakers after a series of spending controversies, and expects reforms will be made to the council’s discretionary spending accounts as a result.

Reports in the Louisville Courier-Journal and LEO Weekly uncovered that council members have spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on food and prizes for constituents using Kroger gift cards at community events.

Outside experts and political observers have slammed the practice saying it’s akin to “handing out cash.”

Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, says city lawmakers should not be using their accounts to reward constituents and the council needs stronger restrictions and oversight on discretionary funds if it wants to keep the public’s trust.

“It doesn’t matter if it is one dime or one million dollars, we need to hold ourselves at a high standard in making sure that the taxpayers can have the trust and confidence in us to expend their money wisely,” he says.

Each Metro Council member has an account at Kroger to use for district business. However, city records show many gift cards were used for residents at contests, parties and neighborhood festivals.